Celtics coach Brad Stevens joined Merloni and Fauria on Wednesday as part of the Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon to talk about basketball and his connection to cancer research. To hear the interview, go to the Merloni and Fauria audio on demand page.
Stevens said he has a strong connection to cancer research because his wife, Tracy, lost her mother to cancer in 2004. Since then, the two of them have tried to be active supporters. While at Butler, Stevens said he and the team used to run tournaments that would bring in corporate teams to play and help raise money for the local American Cancer Society. Now, he and his wife have been able to tour Dana-Farber and learn more about the Jimmy Fund to get involved in both the patient care and research standpoints.
“The negative connotation of cancer has always been there, but it was really negative 15 years ago,” Stevens said. “I think we all now have learned so much, and the awareness is so high, and we’ve all invested in this fight against cancer for whatever organizations you’re working with that there’s also a positive outlook on competing against it, beating it and then living your life after it.”
Stevens said that when his players do hospital visits and see sick patients, the idea is that seeing one of the Celtics could brighten someone’s day, but it does twice as much for theirs.
“I think that that’s the same no matter who’s ever done anything or given anything back to the community,” he said. “You always feel like you got a lot more in return just from spending time with those patients, seeing how resilient they are, seeing how tough they are, all ages. But certainly the pediatric patients are the ones that certainly pull at the heartstrings, seeing young kids having to go through it. We’ve been affected by that in our family very closely, and the one thing I’ll always say about young kids, man, they’re a resilient, resilient group, and it’s the ultimate example of toughness. We throw around words like toughness pretty regularly in a team sport or a sport that’s covered closely. That’s not real compared to what these guys are going through.”
While Stevens stressed that you realize “how little importance sports are when you’re talking about [cancer and sickness],” he did talk about the Celtics some. He detailed what he’s seen from rookies Jordan Mickey, Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter so far this summer.
Mickey, Stevens said, has really impressed him. Though he’s not the typical height of a power forward or center, the second-round pick has the length, quickness and timing to be really good. Rozier has come in and showcased an elite level of toughness, athleticism and drive that Stevens said he thinks will make him excel. Hunter was anxious the first two games of the summer, according to Stevens, so much so that it looked as if he was playing in Game 3 or 4 of the Finals but settled down after and did well.
“Those guys are workers,” Stevens said. “They’ll come in, they’ll work, they’ll add to that environment of work that I like the rest of our guys are doing, and so time will tell, but we’re anxious to see.”
Stevens added that he’s not so sure there’s much of a difference in personality between guys at the collegiate level compared to players in the pros.
“I think the biggest thing I would say is most similar between coaching Butler and coaching the Celtics is I’ve coached a ton of prideful guys,” he said. “When I was at Butler, we had competitive, prideful, tough guys. And so any time you have pride then there’s always going to be some times where you’re hurting, or it’s a tougher day to coach, or it’s a tougher day to get going, whatever the case may be, but you always seem to come through that because you’re willing to work, you’re willing to get better.
“I just see across basketball, it doesn’t really matter what level. If guys want to be coached, if guys want to work, then it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about an 8-year-old or you’re talking about a 25-year-old. Those guys come to work, and they’re coachable because they want to get better.”
To prepare for the season, Stevens said the best thing to do is get all of the scheduling out of the way as quickly as possible. He said you have to know how to put the appropriate amount of physical load on your players and also realize when to pull back. When the Celtics’ schedule was released the other day, Stevens said they had the travel schedule done in 12 or 15 hours because it gives him a better feel of the season.
The other thing, according to Stevens, is figuring out how to make the most out of practices in terms of teaching.
“You get a lot less practice time in the pros than you do in college,” he said. “I think we had 56 total practices last year. I do not keep those guys on the floor for three hours at a time, we’re very quick, in and out. We’re trying to be as efficient as we can, so we better have those things planned out well and early in the season, especially in that preseason when those exhibition games and travel come in a flurry. You’ve got to be good in those early days, you’ve got to be really good in those early days.”